On the record with Robert White

New Housing Committee chair Robert White in his office. Photo by Annemarie Cuccia.

You asked: Over the years, many people have been displaced as a result of new housing developments. How is the city working to ensure that new housing developments are in fact equitable and do not displace people?

The District’s process for developing housing right now is not meeting the needs of people with low incomes, families looking for rental units, seniors on a fixed income or our unhoused neighbors. I am working to change this in several different ways. In 2019, the D.C. Council passed my Economic Development Return on Investment Accountability Act which requires the mayor to track and report on whether development projects that get taxpayer money produce enough affordable housing units and jobs for District residents.

I also want to give communities more say in development projects in their neighborhoods. I introduced the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) Participation in Planning Act, which the council passed in 2021. This bill provides training and support for ANC commissioners so they can better negotiate with developers as they are planning projects, and before they come to the council for approval.

In January of this year, I reintroduced the Common Ground Act to require more low-income housing and more family-sized units, and ensure that neighborhood residents have a say in what gets developed when the city sells public land.

We’ve seen damming investigations by the local press recently highlighting that the D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) is paying rents for housing vouchers that are much higher than rent from other tenants. This has incentivized some landlords to push out residents with lower incomes to bring in more money from people with housing vouchers. That means taxpayer money is being used to displace residents. This is unacceptable. In my oversight of DCHA as chair of the Committee on Housing, I have asked the agency to share how they will start ensuring vouchers align with market-rate rents to prevent people from getting displaced out of affordable housing.

The main tool D.C. uses to create affordable housing is the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF). Unfortunately, Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed a $344 million decrease in HPTF funding This means that D.C. will create less affordable housing in the coming years, and struggle to preserve the affordable housing we have.

As chair of the Committee on Housing, my goal is to dig into our housing system to focus better on the people struggling to stay here. I’ve visited public housing units, private apartment buildings, hotels serving as temporary housing for migrants, homeless shelters and encampments so far on my deep dive into our housing system. I’m going to keep bringing the housing committee to the community because that is the best way we can learn about problems and fix them.

I’ll look forward to answering more of your housing questions in the coming months. And if my team can be of service to you, please contact us at 202-724-8174.

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